Looking back at what we learned, lost and gained in 2020

There have been some good stories this year.
 The harvest was one of the best in years. Crops came off with exceptional yields, in good time and in nice field conditions. | File photo

I’m not big on end-of-year summaries, but with 2020 a year whose end will be celebrated (albeit not with crowds), it’s worth looking at what we’ve learned, what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained.

This will be a year that historians and average people will look back on for the next 100 years. Hopefully we won’t have another year like it for 100 years.

We’ve learned some interesting lessons:

  • There are cultural differences between which societies pull together and which do not. Luckily, Canada has generally been a society that has pulled together.
  • Crazy conspiracies multiply in times of stress.
  • Advance preparation and vigilance are necessary even if serious global pandemics only show up every 100 years.
  • Data and metrics and communicating that information are critical in a world where information flows everywhere instantly.
  • People are generally good to each other when they should be.
  • Our food system can flex and bend and still comfortably feed the Canadian population, although not without some pain for many along the food supply chain.

There have been some good stories this year.

The harvest was one of the best in years. Crops came off with exceptional yields, in good time and in nice field conditions. Crop prices rose uncharacteristically at harvest allowing for more selling off the combine.

There will be fewer ruts in fields this year and more money in farmers’ pockets — although more juggling of tax issues for those who sold parts of the 2019 and 2020 crops in the same year.

During the early pandemic-driven convulsions of the food system, farmers and farm groups stepped up to make sure much of the surplus supply they had in hand wasn’t wasted and was given to food banks across the province. Some products were difficult to manage (like raw milk), but eggs and potatoes could be moved to people who needed them with some heavy lifting by farmers.

I hope the spirit of generosity continues as pandemic fatigue sets in during winter.

The agriculture sector will be more efficient coming out of the pandemic, as numerous tools have been put in place that make moving documents and information quicker. Conventions have been challenged. The social nature of agriculture business will continue, but the face-to-face meetings that have dominated business transactions will evolve.

Learning opportunities have exploded as they have moved online. Although most people are desperate for face-to-face opportunities again, the ability to reach larger audiences efficiently for training and information exchange will continue.

We’ve also been forced to spend more time with the people closest to us. For some, that has been a challenge, bringing to the forefront issues that have been underlying before the pandemic. For others, including myself, I will look back on the pandemic as quality time I was privileged to spend with my teenagers before they all-too-quickly become adults.

Our elders have inordinately been affected by the virus, including many who have been important to our rural communities. We can’t be complacent about the changes needed to our elder care.

Suicide rates have risen during the pandemic as radical change in the way our society exists and forced separation from friends and family have taken a toll.

People who have needed medical attention have had to wait longer to be seen and treated.

We’ve lost opportunities and time.

There’s productivity that comes from people meeting face to face. Our economies and human progress will have slowed this year.

There’s concern about rapidly rising public spending. Our governments are keeping many parts of our economy afloat and that can’t continue forever. There will be a period of reckoning when we have to pay back the hundreds of billions we’ve borrowed in 2020. That will be one of the many long legacies of the most unique year of most of our lifetimes.

John Greig is editor of Farmtario.

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